Dr. Robert L. Saucy on The Church and The Kingdom




The relationship of the church to the kingdom concept in Scripture is of utmost importance for the perspective of the place of the church in God’s historical program. History reveals that much harm has come from the misunderstanding of this relationship. Based upon Augustine’s City of God, the church of the Middle Ages developed the theology which equated the church with the kingdom of God on earth, resulting in the absolute authority of the church in teaching and dispensing salvation grace. In another direction, this equation led to the concept of building the kingdom through the church, forgetting that the fulfillment of the promises of God’s reign is yet future (Cf. Hans Kung, The Church, pp. 90-92).

The equation of the church with the kingdom inevitably leads “to an intolerable glorification of the Church” which “is to forget that the power and the glory of the reign of God are still to come … that the Church is called to pilgrimage, not to rest. It is to forget that the Church is composed of men, and sinful men at that.…” (Ibid., pp. 92-93).

Such exaltation of the church at the expense of the proclamation of Jesus the Lord and the coming kingdom reign has not only often contributed to the failure of the church in its mission of servant in the world, but has also led to dissatisfaction and criticism of the church when it failed to produce a millennial utopia on earth (Ibid., pp. 93-94).

On the other hand, any radical divorce of the church from the kingdom sunders it unbiblically from participation in the salvation program of divine history.


Meaning of the kingdom. The kingdom of God in Scripture is the all-embracing program of God’s divine salvation history. All ages, peoples, and saving activities are in some way related to it. It has well been described by Sauer as “the royal saving work of God to the carrying through of His counsels in creation and redemption.” (Sauer, p. 89).

Its comprehensive scope is seen in the prayer for the kingdom which the Lord taught His disciples: “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven” (Mt 6:9). The coming of the kingdom is nothing less than the coming of the reign of God upon this earth. Involved in the term kingdom (basileia) are both the sovereignty or royal dignity of a king, and the realm or territory in which this kingship is exercised (Karl Ludwig Schmidt, “basileia” in TDNT, 1:579-80).

The kingdom of God thus refers to the sovereign rule of God over His creation. Although there is, in the ultimate sense, one kingdom of God, the Scripture uses this term for two distinct aspects of this kingdom. On the one hand, it signifies God’s universal, eternal rule over all creation: “The LORD hath prepared his throne in the heavens; and his kingdom ruleth over all” (Ps 103:19). On the other hand, it refers to the eschatological Messianic kingdom which is to be established in history, which Christ announced as at hand, and for which He taught His disciples to pray. While the first kingdom is ruled directly by God, the second aspect is founded upon covenant promises and ruled through the God-Man, Jesus Christ, the Seed of David. It is the purpose of this mediatorial aspect to establish the reign of God, which is now over the earth, directly upon it, and to make the kingdoms of this world “the kingdoms of our Lord, and of his Christ” (Rev 11:15b).

Stages of the kingdom. The kingdom program has been manifest in several forms as it moves toward the ultimate establishment of the kingdom of Christ upon earth. Founded upon the covenant promises with Abraham, it was begun in an initiatory form in the kingdom of Israel. Not only did God rule over Israel with the manifestation of His Shekinah glory in the tabernacle and the temple, but through this nation the way of salvation was prepared for all nations (Jn 4:22; Ro 11:12-15). The next appearance of the kingdom came with Christ. It was present in His person (Lk 17:21) and also in the power of the Spirit demonstrated in His mighty works (Lk 11:20). Again the glory of God was present, this time veiled in human flesh (Jn 1:14; cf. Lk 9:29-32). The kingdom is now present, working in the church according to the mysteries described by Christ in His parabolic teaching (Mt 13:11 ff.; cf. 20:1 ff.; 22:2 ff.) until the end of the age (Mt 13:39, 49). Finally, the mediatorial kingdom will be consummated in the millennial reign of Christ in glory on the earth (Rev 20:4-6). After the final putting of all His enemies under His feet, the kingdom will be delivered up to the Father “that God may be all in all” (1 Co 15:24-28).

The kingdom distinct from the church. From the above outline of God’s kingdom program it is evident that, far from equation, several distinctions must be noted between the church and the kingdom: Not only are the terms church (ekklesia) and kingdom (basileia) never equated in the New Testament, but each has a distinct etymological and connotational meaning. The introduction of the kingdom and that of the church are entirely different. The kingdom is introduced as something “at hand” from the beginning of Christ’s ministry (Mt 4:17), while the church is only the subject of prophecy much later (Mt 16:18). The coming of the kingdom is the breaking in of the perfect heavenly reign of God. It is not the product of growth and organic development as the church of which Christ said, “I will build my church” (Mt 16:18; cf. Eph 2:21-22). Finally, the usage of the terms in the New Testament reveals a clear distinction. In the gospels, the term kingdom occurs many times, while church is used only three times and these in a prophetic sense (Mt 16:18; 18:17). However, in the book of Acts, which forms the historical transition from the time of the gospels to that of the church, the attention of the disciples is turned away from the kingdom by the Lord’s statement that it was not for them to know the times and seasons (Ac 1:6-7), and increasing reference is made to the newly established church. This continues in the epistles, which are addressed to the churches or members of the churches but never to the saints of the kingdom. Only in Revelation does the kingdom again become prominent with its establishment at the coming of Christ. Thus the kingdom appears in Scripture as a distinct concept from the church. Nevertheless, the church shares in the kingdom as a part of God’s purpose to reign upon the earth.


The two errors of identifying the church with the kingdom or radically separating them are usually associated with a one-sided concept of the nature of the kingdom. Those who would see the kingdom as the church are compelled to stress the abstract aspect of the kingdom, thus viewing it as the present spiritual reign of God in the hearts of men. Likewise, those separating the kingdom from the church stress the futurity and apocalyptic nature of the kingdom. The kingdom (basileia) includes both aspects. The church is therefore presently related to the kingdom in its spiritual nature but also looks forward to participation in the glorious culmination in the literal apocalyptic manifestation of the kingdom.

Present relation of the church to the kingdom. The relation of the church to the kingdom at present is based upon the fact of her salvation in Christ. In the gospels, the kingdom of God is so closely associated with Christ that in some passages to speak of the kingdom is to speak of Christ Himself. In Mark 11:10 the people cried, “Blessed be the kingdom of our father David, that cometh in the name of the Lord,” but in Matthew 21:9 and Luke 19:38 the same language is used with reference to Christ. A similar close relationship is seen in the phrases “for my sake, and the gospel’s” (Mk 10:29), “for my name’s sake” (Mt 19:29), and “for the kingdom of God’s sake” (Lk 18:29). The coming of the kingdom of God (Mk 9:1; Lk 9:27) is the coming of the Son of man with His kingdom (Mt 16:28). Christ even pointed to His mighty work while on earth as the arrival of the kingdom of God (Mt 12:28; Ibid., pp. 588-89).

From these passages it is evident that kingdom is, in reality, nothing less than the salvation of God in Christ. What was announced as imminent in the proclamation of the gospels was begun through the passion and exaltation of Christ. The decisive saving events had taken place, the promised eschatological salvation was present spiritually in the rule of Christ as Lord over the hearts and lives of His people. Temporally they live in this present age, but “spiritually they belong to the heavenly kingdom and enjoy the life of the age to come” (F.F. Bruce, The Book of Acts, p. 35).

This was the message the apostles proclaimed in Acts. Luke says that Christ for forty days between the resurrection and the ascension spoke to the apostles “of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God” (Ac 1:3). Part of His instruction during this period is related again by Luke when he records that the risen Lord opened the understanding of the disciples that they might understand the Scriptures concerning His suffering and resurrection “and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem” (Lk 24:45-47). Thus the gospel of the gracious remission of sins through Christ is the message of the kingdom. The Samaritans “believed Philip preaching the things concerning the kingdom of God, and the name of Jesus Christ” (Ac 8:12). Likewise, Paul’s ministry of “the gospel of the grace of God” was at the same time the “preaching [of] the kingdom of God” (Ac 20:24 ff.). To the end of Acts, both to Jew and Gentile he was “preaching the kingdom of God, and teaching those things which concern the Lord Jesus Christ” (Ac 28:31; cf. v. 23). The person of Christ and His Lordship became the prominent objects of apostolic preaching, rather than the “kingdom,” as in the gospels, because now the reign of God is His. As Küng notes, “The concept of the reign of God becomes of secondary importance; because the glorified Kyrios shows in himself the meaning of the reign of God in which the church lives.” The crucified Jesus has been made “both Lord and Christ” (Ac 2:36) and all authority in heaven and earth are given to Him (Mt 28:18).

The relationship of the church to the kingdom presently involves both her nature and her mission (Sauer, pp. 90-93; cf. Herman Ridderbos, The Coming of the Kingdom, pp. 354-56). Concerning her nature, the church is first the fruit of the kingdom. The members of the church are those who have been gathered together, as we have seen, by the preaching of the gospel, which is the word of the kingdom. They therefore have their “citizenship in heaven” as citizens of the kingdom (Philippians 3:20, NASB; cf. Col 1:13). So also the “good seed” which is sown during the period of the mysteries of the kingdom “are the sons of the kingdom” (Matthew 13:38, NASB). As citizens, the church is secondly those who acknowledge the regal lordship of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:3; Romans 10:9-10). According to Paul, the gospel carries with it the command to repent (Acts 17:30). Conversion takes place in the act of submission plus the obedience of faith toward the Lord (Romans 16:26; Acts 26:19). It is at the same time the recognition of the kingly rule of God in Christ and entrance into the membership of the church. Finally, the church, as citizens of the kingdom, enjoys certain blessings of that kingdom even while living in the kingdoms of this world. McClain notes this fact when he says, “From His [Christ’s] present throne in the heavens, He is abundantly able to bestow certain of His regal blessings even before the arrival of the Kingdom” (Alva J. McClain, The Greatness of the Kingdom, p. 440).

These blessings are manifest and operative in the presence and power of the Spirit by whom the risen Lord is present in His church. Through life in the Spirit, the church already experiences “the powers of the age to come” (Hebrews 6:5, NASB). The church, as citizens of the kingdom, is called into the service of the kingdom as ambassadors for Christ the King (2 Corinthians 5:20) with the mission of representing “its heavenly government in this world as in a foreign land” (Sauer, p. 92). Under the full authority of Christ, the members of the church are sent forth (Matthew 28:18-20) to proclaim the salvation of the kingdom and the command of God to repent and believe (Acts 17:30; Romans 16:26). Through the church the good seed of the kingdom is scattered abroad in order  that sons of the kingdom might be prepared for the arrival of its manifestation in glory (Matthew 13:36-43). In its very nature and mission the church is therefore presently “surrounded and impelled by the revelation, the progress, the future of the kingdom of God without, however, itself being the basilea, and without ever being identified with it” (Ridderbos, p. 356).

Relation of the church to the future kingdom. Although the church is presently related to the kingdom, the vast majority of references to the kingdom in the New Testament look to the future kingdom. The present mystery phase of the kingdom is not the final act; if fact, the disciples make no mention of it in the gospels but rather look to the future establishment of the kingdom (Matthew 19:27-30; 20:21; cf. Acts 1:6). Christ Himself, although referring to the presence of the kingdom Himself and His ministry, specifically taught in the parable of the nobleman that the kingdom was not going to appear immediately (Luke 19:11). The same forward look characterizes the epistles. The kingdom is an inheritance of the believers in the church from which those of the world will be excluded (1 Corinthians 6:9; Galatians 5:21; Ephesians 5:5; James 2:5). It is something for which the church presently suffers that they might be “counted worthy of the kingdom of God” (2 Thessalonians 1:5; cf. Acts 14:22) and for which they live fruitful lives that theirs may be an “entrance…abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of…[their] Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 1:11). Members of the church stand related to the future kingdom first of all as heirs. In its unity with Christ the church as His body is coheir with Christ of the glory of the age to come when the kingdom will be manifest in all creation (Romans 8:17ff.). Second, as heirs with Christ the church shares in the reign of the coming kingdom. Although believers are often called the servants and slaves of their Lord and are therefore subject to His regal rule, the New Testament avoids referring to them as subjects of the kingdom (Peters, 1:597). For when the kingdom comes, “the saints shall judge the world” (1 Corinthians 6:2) and reign with Christ (2 Timothy 2:12; Revelation 1:6; 5:10; 20:6). As the bride, they will be one with Him in His kingdom reign. Thus the church appears in Scripture as vitally related to the kingdom program of God both presently and in the future because of her relation to Christ the Lord, God’s mediatorial King,


Robert Saucy

ROBERT LLOYD SAUCY (B.A., Westmont College; Th. D., Th. M., Dallas Theological Seminary) is a distinguished professor of systematic theology at Talbot Theological Seminary. He previously served as president of the Evangelical Theological Society and addresses that group frequently. He is author of numerous books, including The Church in God’s Program, The Bible: Breathed from God and The Case for Progressive Dispensationalism, and is the editor of Women and Men in Ministry: A Complementary Perspective. He also wrote the “Open But Cautious View” in Are Miraculous Gifts for Today? Four Views, edited by Dr. Wayne Grudem. His shorter works have appeared in many journals including Bibliotheca Sacra, Grace Theological Journal, andJournal of the Evangelical Theological Society. He also was one of only three scholars who worked both on the original 1971 translation of the New American Standard Bible as well as the 1995 update. Dr. Saucy resides in Anaheim, California.

Dr. Robert L. Saucy on The Distinction of Israel and the Church




Much discussion has centered around the relationship of the church and Israel. Some biblical interpreters, emphasizing their similarity, view them essentially as one people of God (Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology, p. 571; cf. also the Roman Catholic position stated in the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church of Vatican II, Walter M. Abbott, ed., The Documents of Vatican II, pp. 24-37). The term Israel represents not a national people but the spiritual people of God. Therefore, the members of the church are considered to be New Israel. Spiritual Israel was related to national Israel in the Old Testament but it has now been enlarged to become a universal spiritual work in the church. The Israel of the Old Testament is thus superseded by the church, and the prophecies concerning the nation of Israel are, for the most part, no longer literally applied to the nation but rather to the church now and in the future.

A preferable position sees Israel and the church as distinct phases of God’s program; not so distinct as to preclude relationship in the historical plan and purpose of God, but having a distinction which recognizes the calling and election of Israel as a nation among nations (cf. Deu 7:6-8; 10:15-17; Num 23:9) to be “without repentance” (cf. Ro 11:27-29). This does not deny the spiritual qualifications necessary for Israel to enter into the fulfillment of her promises. Physical descent alone is not sufficient to reap God’s blessings. This was already true of Israel in the Old Testament. There has always been a true Israel within national Israel, but this true Israel is a part of the nation (Compare the concept of the Servant of the Lord in Isaiah, where in many places the Servant is identified merely with Israel [e.g., 41:8; 43:10; 44:21], but in other instances it is clear that only the true Israel is involved [51:1,7]). This interpretation allows for the natural understanding of the Old Testament prophecies portraying a future for Israel as a nation. It is also consistent with the New Testament teaching of the church as distinct from Israel and yet sharing in God’s salvation program.


The New Testament never confuses Israel and the church. As opposed to the church, which is a religious body composed of individuals from all nations, the term Israel retains its reference to that people which came physically from the loins of Abraham. After the beginning of the church, Israel is still addressed as a national entity. When on the day of Pentecost Peter addresses his audience as “you men of Israel” (Ac 2:22), he is obviously referring to those of the physical nation and not the church. Similar uses of the term “Israel” are found throughout Acts, demonstrating the fact that the church had not taken this term for itself (Ac 3:12; 4:10; 5:21, 31, 35; 21:28). Paul’s prayer for “Israel” (Ro 10:1; cf. 11:1) and his references to Israel throughout the discussion of God’s program in Romans 9—11 concern his “kinsmen according to the flesh” (9:3). If “Israel” were a reference to the church, the reference to Israel’s “blindness in part … until the fulness of the Gentiles has come in” (11:25) would be meaningless.

Two references are often used against this consistent use of Israel for the nation in an attempt to substantiate that the church is New Israel. One is Paul’s statement: “For they are not all Israel, which are of Israel” [Ro 9:6] (Louis Berkhof, The Kingdom of God, p. 161; Arndt and Gingrich also define Israel in this passage as “a figurative sense of the Christians as the true nation of Israel” – W.F. Arndt and F.W. Gingrich, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, p. 382). An examination of the context reveals, however, that Paul is speaking only of a division within Israel. He has introduced the subject concerning his “brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh” who are identified as “Israelites” (vv. 3-4). The subsequent discussion concerns God’s elective purpose within the physical seed of Israel as illustrated in the choice of Isaac over Ishmael and the other children of Abraham and Jacob over Esau (vv. 7-13). Verse 6 then also has reference to Israel. “Those ‘of Israel’ are the physical seed, the natural descendants of the patriarchs” while in the other expression ‘they are not all Israel,” obviously the denotation is much more limited and the thought is that there is an ‘Israel’ within ethnic Israel” (John Murray, The Epistle to the Romans, 2:9). Gutbrod, linking this pasage with Romans 2:28-29, where a similar Jewish context is often overlooked, states forthrightly, “We are not told here that gentile Christians are the true Israel. The distinction at Romans 9:6, does not go beyond what is presupposed at John 1:47, and it corresponds to the distinction between Ioudaios en to krupto [a Jew inwardly] and loudaios en to phanero [a Jew outwardly] at Romans 2:28f., which does not imply that Paul is calling Gentiles true Jews” (Walter Gutbrod, “Israel” in TDNT, 3:387).

Perhaps the words most often cited for the identity of the church as Israel are those of the apostle to the Galatians: “And as many as walk according to this rule, peace be on them, and mercy, and upon the Israel of God” (Galatians 6:16). The meaning of “Israel of God” in this verse rests upon its relationship to the previous expression, “as many as walk according to this rule,” and this relationship depends upon one’s understanding of the “and” (Greek, kai) which connects them. Three different interpretations have been suggested. Lenski, expressing the view which sees the church as the Israel of God, understands kai in the explicative sense of “even.” “As many as will keep in line with the rule,’ constitute ‘the Israel of God'” (R.C.H. Lenski, The Interpretation of St. Paul’s Epistles to the Galatians, to the Ephesians and to the Philippians, p. 321; cf. J.B. Lightfoot, The Epistle of St. Paul to the Galatians, pp. 224-25). A second view clearly separating the two phrases as distinct groups is that of Walvoord, who states, “God’s blessing is declared on those who walk according to this rule (among the Galatians who were Gentiles), and also ‘upon the Israel of God'” (John F. Walvoord, The Millennial Kingdom, p. 170). According to this interpretation the kai (“and”) is used as simple copula joining two separate entities.

The third interpretation, which seems preferable, understands the use of the kai (“and”) as adding a specially important part of the whole in the sense of “and especially” (For this use of kai, see Arndt and Gingrich, p. 392). Ellicott interprets the passage according to this use as well as refuting the position of identity when he says,

Still, as it is doubtful whether kai is ever used by St. Paul in so marked explicative force as must be assigned…and as it seems still more doubtful whether Christians generally could be called “the Israel of God”…the simple copulative meaning seems most probable…St. Paul includes all in his blessing, of whatever stock and kindred; and then with his thought turning [as it ever did] to his own brethren after the flesh [Romans ix. 3], he pauses to specify those who were once Israelites according to the flesh [1 Cor. x. 18], but now are the Israel of God…true spiritual children of Abraham (Charles J. Ellicott, St. Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians, p. 139; Eadie comments, “The simple copulative meaning is not to be departed from, save on very strong grounds; and there is not ground for such departure here, so that the Israel of God are a party included in, and yet distinct from the hosoi [as many as]” – John Eadie, Commentary on the Epistle of Paul to the Galatians, p. 470).

The truth of Burton’s statement that “there is, in fact, no instance of his [Paul’s] using Israel except of the Jewish nation or a part thereof” (Ernest DeWitt Burton, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Epistle to the Galatians, p. 358), renders the possibility of that use in this verse highly doubtful (Although the term Israel is used 38 times and Israelite occurs 8 times in Acts-Revelation, the absence of a clear reference to the church in any of these instances makes one suspect the validity of this popular theological equation. The statement of R.T. Stamm almost incredibly admits to theological deduction unrelated to the evidence: “But although he {Paul] did believe that Christians constituted the true Israel, he never called the church the Israel of God, but used the word ‘Israel’ to designate the Jewish nation” [The Interpreter’s Bible, ed. Geirge A. Buttrick. New York: Abingdon, 1953, 10:590-91]. If the New Testament writers actually do make the theological equation of the terms church and Israel, it is difficult to explain their reticence to make such an equation verbally).

The context of Galatians supports the inclusion of the Israel of God among those that “walk according to this rule.” The apostle wrote to ward off the threat of those Judaizers who insisted upon mingling law with the grace of the gospel, demanding that Christians be circumcised as well as have faith in Christ. It would seem logical to pronounce peace and mercy not only upon the Gentiles who rcognize that “neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation” (Galatians 6:15), but also upon those Jewish Christians who likewise recognize this rule of grace. The special mention of Jewish believers who rejected the error of the Judaizers is logical, as it would be these among the Galatians who would be most likely to succumb.

A further motive might be also suggested for their special mention. Paul’s attack upon the Judaizers might incite antagonism on the part of the Gentile believers against all Jews. Perhaps the special mention of the Israel of God was also designed to quell any such animostiy. Additional evidence for this interpretation is found in the similarity of this statement with the conclusion of Jewish prayers: “Shew mercy and peace upon us, and Thy people Israel” (Gutbrod, p. 388, n. 135; F.F. Bruce suggests that it is “perhaps an echo of Psalm 125:5, ‘Peace be upon Israel'” [The Letters of Paul: An Expanded Paraphrase, p. 39]).

The consistent witness of Scripture is to the distinctiveness of Israel and the church. Israel is an elect nation called to witness to the glory of God as a nation among nations and serve a distinct phase in the kingdom program. The prophecies declare that she will yet fulfill this calling. The church, on the other hand, is a people called out from every nation as “a people for his name” (Acts 15:14). She also bears witness to the glory of God and serves His kingdom program along with the nation of Israel.

Having noted this distinction, it is necessary to guard against a dichotomy which fails to see the place of the church as an integral part of God’s program along with Israel and thus a coheir of the promises (Gal. 3:29). This close relationship of Israel and the church is seen in the concepts of the seed of Abraham and the new covenant.


In the call of Abraham and the covenant promises made to him, God laid the basis of His program of redemption and the ultimate establishment of His rule on earth. It was in fulfillment of the Abrahamic promises that Christ came bringing salvation and will ultimately reign as King over the earth (Lk. 1:69-79′ Gal. 3:14; Acts 3:25-26). The believers in the church as the seed of Abraham share in this promise with Israel.

The biblical use and meaning of “seed of Abraham.” The expression “seed of Abraham” has three applications in Scripture. it is used first for the natural descendants of Abraham through Jacob. “But you, Israel, are my servant, Jacob whom I have chosen, the seed of Abraham my friend” (Is. 41:8; cf. 2 Ch. 20:7; Ps. 105:6; Rom. 11:1). Jesus likewise made reference to literal descendants when He said, “I know that you are Abraham’s seed” (John 8:37; cf. Luke 13:16; 19:9). He quickly denies, however, that physical lineage is the decisive factor when He says to the same individuals, “If you were Abraham’s children, you would do the works of Abraham” (John 8:39b). As there is a true Israel within ethnic Israel, so there is a genuine seed within the physical seed. The true seed are those “not of the circumcision only, but who also walk in the steps of that faith of…father Abraham” (Romans 4:12). However, the fact that the true seed includes spiritual characteristics does not negate the reality of the physical relationship in this use of the concept. It is hardly conceivable that Abraham understood it otherwise when God made reference to “your seed after you in their generations” (Gen. 17:7) and to his son Isaac “and…his seed after him” (v. 19b; cf. 28:13-14). A second use of this terminology is for Christ Himself. “Now to Abraham and his seed were promises made and to his offspring. It does not say ‘And to offsprings,’ referring to many, but referring to one, “And to your offspring,” who is Christ” (Gal. 3:16). The true posterity of Abraham is ultimately embodied in Christ. He is its summation and Head, for the promise was received through Him. All who inherit the promises inherit them through Christ.

The third application follows logically upon the second. All those in Christ are also Abraham’s seed. “And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise” (Gal. 3:29). This includes all, whether Jew and Gentile, who are in Christ, and therefore in His body, the church. According to its usage, “seed of Abraham” thus has two basic significations in Scripture. It refers to a spiritual seed which is justified through Christ’s work by faith after the pattern of Abraham. It also denotes Abraham’s physical posterity through Isaac and Jacob which formed the nation of Israel. While all Israelites can be called Abraham’s seed, only those of faith are Abraham’s true seed who will inherit the promises. The primary significance is thus spiritual, and this spiritual seed is made up of true Israel as well as those outside Israel.

Both the church and Israel are therefore Abraham’s seed and heirs of the promise. But this does not therefore equate the church and Israel. Rather, Abraham is the father of both. Writing to the Romans, Paul states that Abraham is “the father of all them that believe, though they be not circumcised…And the father of circumcision to them who are not of the circumcision only, but who also walk the steps of that faith of our father Abraham, which he had being yet uncircumcised” (Rom. 4:11-12). Thus, as Godet explains, “There was a time in Abraham’s life when by his uncircumcision he represented the Gentiles, as later after his circumcision he became the representative of Israel” (F. Godet, Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans, p. 295). Children of Abraham may belong to one category or another, but “”children of Abraham’ are not necessarily ‘children of Israel’, for Israel is not the the only seed of Abraham” (D.W.B. Robinson, “The Salvation of Israel in Romans 9-11,” The Reformed Theological Review 26 [Sept-Dec. 1967]: 89). The members of the church are also Abraham’s seed as individuals out of all the families of the earth, while Israel is his seed as the great nation among nations “through whom the promise would eventually be held out to the rest of the nations” (Ibid).

Church participation in the Abrahamic promises. As seed of Abraham the members of the church participate in the Abraham covenant; they are “heirs according to the promise” (Gal. 3:29). The original promise to Abraham included this blessing upon those outside of Israel: “In you shall all the families of the earth be blessed” (Gen. 12:3), and the outworking of this promise is the subject of many of the Old Testament prophecies. The vast majority of these relate to that time when converted Israel will be a channel of blessing to all nations during the kingdom reign of Christ on earth (Is. 2:2-4; 60:1 ff.; 62:2; Zech. 8:22-23). However, with the institution of the mystery phase of the kingdom, the New Testament teaches that this blessing has already come to the Gentiles during the church age. This present blessing does not supersede or cancel the fulfillment of millennial blessings, but is rather part of that program of God which was not clearly revealed in prophecy. There are, in fact, indications of God’s turning from Israel to bring salvation to others even during this time before the restoration of Israel. He promises to provoke Israel to jealousy “with those which are not a people” (Deut. 32:21b). The apostle Paul sees this promise fulfilled in the salvation of the church (Rom. 11:11; 10:19). The participation of the church in the covenant promises made to Abraham rests, as we have seen, on the fact that these promises included blessing for all families of the earth (Gen. 12:3). When the apostle speaks of the blessing of Abraham coming on the church, he makes reference specifically  to this universal promise and not to the the national  promises of Israel. “Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham. And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, ‘In you shall all the nations be blessed.’ So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith” (Gal. 3:7-9).

The grafting in the Gentiles onto the root of the olive tree in Paul’s figure of Romans 11 represents the fulfillment of this universal promise. The root represents the foundation of God’s redemptive program in His covenant promises to Abraham, or perhaps Abraham himself as the father of all those sharing in the promise (It is possible also to understand the root as Christ, “the seed of Abraham to whom the promise was made” [see Galatians 3:16 ff.], and in whom it is fulfilled. Cf. H.L. Ellison, The Mystery of Israel, pp. 86-87; cf. Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics, 2, 2, 285 ff.). The natural branches represent Israel, while the wild branches which are grafted in are the Gentile believers. As branches, both partake of “the root and fatness of the olive tree” (v. 17b). In that Israel is the natural branches, the tree can be said to be “their own olive tree” (v. 24). They had received the promises and covenants and growth from the root as God formed the nation of Israel as His people. But now the Gentiles in the church, as wild branches with whom God had made no covenants, are grafted in to partake of the same root. The Gentiles which were “aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenant of promise, having not hope, and without God in the world…now…are made nigh by the blood of Christ” (Eph. 2:12-13). They do not now assume Israel’s promises to become a new Israel, but they have become “fellow heirs…and partakers of his [God’s] promise in Christ by the gospel” (Eph. 3:6). “The Gentiles have been made partakers of their [Israel’s] spiritual things” (Rom. 15:27b).

As seed of Abraham in Christ, the church “participates in all He does to bring the covenant to completion” (J. Dwight Pentecost, Things to Come, p. 90). The present blessings of salvation in Christ, as well as the future glory with Him, are all the realization of the promises made to Abraham. Members of the church are “joint-heirs with Christ” of the promise (Rom. 8:17; cf. Gal. 3:29). Although this participation is not in the place of Israel in the fulfillment of her national promises, the church nevertheless participates even in these through her relationship to Christ, the fulfillment of all promises.


The participation of the church in the promises is seen especially in the blessings of the new covenant which are applied to it. Paul as a minister of the gospel of grace which brings the life-giving Spirit describes himself as one whom God has made adequate as a minister of the new covenant (2 Cor. 3:6). Similarly, the writer of Hebrews cites the new covenant (Heb. 8:8 ff.; 10:15 ff.) in seeking to persuade his hearers of the superiority of Christ over the old covenant. These applications of the new covenant to the church have been variously interpreted. Some see them as evidence that the church is indeed the New Israel fulfilling the Old Testament prophecies addressed to Israel. “For the gospel age in which the living is that day foretold by the prophets when the law of God shall be written in the hearts of men (Jer. 31:33) and when the Spirit of God abiding in their hearts will enable them to keep it (Ez. 11:19, 36:26f). The gospel age is the age of the new covenant” (Oswald T. Allis, Prophecy and the Church, p. 42).

In an attempt to clearly distinguish the prophecies for Israel from those for the church, the position of two new covenants, one for Israel and another for the church, has been espoused. “There remains to be recognized a heavenly covenant for the heavenly people, which is also styled like the preceding one for Israel a ‘new covenant’…To suppose that these two covenants–one for Israel and one for the Church–are the same is to assume that there is a latitude of common interest between God’s purpose for Israel and His purpose for the Church” (Lewis Sperry Chafer, Systematic Theology, 7:98-99).

The Scriptures, however, do not reveal a separate new covenant. The blessings for the church of the indwelling Spirit and the inward law (2 Cor. 3:3-6) are the same as those promised to Israel (Jer. 31:33-34). Moreover, as has been indicated, Jeremiah’s prophecy is directly applied to believers in the book of Hebrews. The fact of only one new covenant does not, however, necessitate that the church is fulfilling Israel’s prophecy in her place. Rather, both Israel and the church share in this covenant, as in the Abrahamic covenant, for the new covenant is the realization of the salvation of the Abrahamic promise.

The promise of the new covenant. Against the background of the impeding judgment through Babylon because of the failure to keep the Mosaic covenant, God promised to “make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah” (Jer. 31:31). The essence of this new covenant was in reality nothing but the renewal of the relationship promised in the old covenant: “I will…be their God, and they shall be my people” (v. 33b; cf. Lev. 26:12; Ex. 29:45). The newness, apart from its futurity, lay in its subjective reality. Whereas the old covenant could only command response, the new covenant contained provisions to effect it. The key provisions were the gracious forgiveness of sins (Jer. 31:34) and the writing of the law in the heart through the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit (v. 33). The result of this latter provision would be the universal knowledge of God (v. 34a). Provisions of the new covenant to Ezekiel further elaborate these covenant promises: “I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules. You shall dwell in the land that I gave your fathers, and you shall be my people, and I will be your God” (Ez. 36:25-28; cf. 11:19 ff.; 34:25-29; 37:26 ff.). The new covenant is also the subject of Isaiah’s prophecies concerning Messianic salvation (Is. 59:20-21). As the result of these spiritual provisions, Israel will also enjoy physical blessing.

In the contexts of the new covenant are promises of restoration to the land, which would continue forever, and multiplied prosperity (Jer. 31:36; Ex. 36:28-38). As the Abrahamic covenant looked forward to the same conditions, it is evident that the new covenant is in reality the gracious provisions for the fulfillment of the original promises given to Abraham. To him was promised a seed which would be a great nation inheriting the promised land as an everlasting possession (Gen. 12:2; 17:6-8). This connection is especially seen in the word of God spoken to Abraham concerning Israel: “I will be their God” (Gen. 17:8). As we have seen, this is, in fact, the culmination of the new covenant.

The new covenant is also related to the Davidic promises which are an amplification of the promises to Abraham (cf. Jer. 33:14-16; 20-26; Eze. 37:21-28). This same relationship is evident in the New Testament as well (Leon Morris, The Apostolic preaching of the Cross, pp. 93-94). Christ came as the fulfillment of God’s word “to perform the mercy promised to our fathers, and to remember his holy covenant: the oath which he swore to our father Abraham to grant us that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies, might serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before him all our days. And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give knowledge of salvation to his people in the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high” (Luke 1:72-78). The forgiveness of sins through Christ and the coming of the Spirit are likewise connected to the fulfillment of Abraham’s covenant in the teaching of Peter (Acts 3:25-26) and Paul (Gal. 3:6 ff.). In summary, the new covenant contained the provisions for the realization of the Messianic promises which find their fulfillment in Jesus Christ, the Seed of Abraham.

Inauguration of the new covenant. The Old Testament prophecy of the new covenant connected the time of the new covenant with a coming Person. This one whom Isaiah saw as Servant of the Lord would be given “for a covenant of the people, for a light of the Gentiles” who would open blind eyes and free those who were in prisons of darkness (42:6-7; cf. 49:8). The same one is “the messenger of the covenant” in Malachi 3:1.

Christ clearly revealed Himself as that Person when in the upper room He linked His death with the new covenant. Taking the cup, He said, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, even that which is poured out for you” (Lk. 22:20, ASV; cf. Mt. 26:28; Mk. 14:24; 1 Cor. 11:25). In this statement Christ was telling the disciples that His death would effect the final eschatological promise of the new covenant for the remission of sins [Mt. 26:28] (It is historically inconceivable that the Jewish disciples to whom these words were spoken could have thought of a new covenant other than that of Old Testament prophecy). The writer of Hebrews later expressly stated that with the death of Christ the covenant was in force (Heb. 9:15-18). He is the “mediator of a better covenant, which was established upon better promises” (8:6).

Thus, from the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ the new covenant stands open to all who receive it. The finished work of Christ at Calvary once and for all provides the basis for all new covenant blessings. To be sure, Israel as a nation has not entered into the provisions of Jeremiah 31 and therefore the specific national fulfillment of the covenant to the “house of Israel” and the “house of Judah” awaits their future conversion. But the “messenger of the covenant” has come, and those who receive Him receive the salvation of the new covenant.

Participation of the church in the new covenant. Although the Old Testament references to the new covenant were for the nation of Israel, the members of the church also share in its provisions. Like the Abrahamic covenant which was ratified with Abraham and his national seed and yet contained blessing for Gentiles, so the new covenant as an amplification of the salvation of the Abrahamic covenant can also be applied to Gentiles.

Old Testament prophecies looked forward to the salvation of the new covenant extending also to the Gentiles. The Servant of God not only restores Israel, but God says, “I will make you as light for the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth” (Is. 49:b; cf. 42:1, 6; 60:3). This prophecy looked forward to the establishment of the Messianic kingdom at the coming of Christ when salvation would flow through converted Israel to all nations. But this salvation has now come to the church during the time of the mysteries of the kingdom between Christ’s first and second comings as an earnest or guarantee of the final fulfillment. The enlargement of the new covenant to those outside of Israel is indicated in the words of Christ Himself when at the inauguration of the Lord’s supper He gave His disciples the cup, saying, “This is my blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many” (Mt. 26:28; Mk. 14:24). In using the word “many” in the Semitic sense of “all,” Christ for “the many” or “all” was already the subject of Isaiah’s prophecy (53:10-12) and was certainly the background for the Lord’s words at the inauguration of the memorial feast of the new covenant (Although in Greek there is a difference in polloi [“many”] and pontes [“all”], the Hebrew and Aramaic have no word for all in the sense of the sum as well as the totality. As a result, the Hebrew ha-rabbim [“the many”] is also used inclusively for “all.” Cr. Joachim Jeremias, “polloi” in TDNT, 6:536, 543-45).

The church thus enjoys the eschatological salvation of the new covenant. Full and final remission of sins is a reality for those in Christ (Eph. 1:7). The life-giving Spirit has come to indwell (2 Cor. 3:3-6) and work out the righteousness of the law in every believer (Rom. 8:2-4). No longer is the knowledge of God connected with the mediation of priests and prophets, but all are taught of the Spirit (1 John 2:27).


This brief study of the church and Israel reveals that the two are distinct, and yet both have a part in the outworking of God’s program. Prior to the launching of the church, God began His kingdom program through the elect nation of Israel. During this time of the mysteries of that kingdom, when Israel has temporarily been set aside and with her the full blessing of the world, God is calling out a people for His name from all the nations, and He is building the church. The church has therefore been grafted into the great promises of blessing which are foundational to God’s total salvation program which had prior to this time been covenanted only to Abraham and Israel. This engrafting is not to replace Israel nor to fulfill her specifically national prophecies. In this regard it is interesting to note that none of the physical blessings attendant upon the realizations of the new covenant for Israel are cited in the New Testament with regard to the church (cf. 2 Cor. 3:6-7; Heb. 8:8-13 with Jer. 31:31-40; Ezek. 36:24-38). Rather, both Israel and the church share in their distinctive phase in God’s program as the people of God through whom He will be glorified.


Robert Saucy

ROBERT LLOYD SAUCY (B.A., Westmont College; Th. D., Th. M., Dallas Theological Seminary) is a distinguished professor of systematic theology at Talbot Theological Seminary. He previously served as president of the Evangelical Theological Society and addresses that group frequently. He is author of numerous books, including The Church in God’s Program, The Bible: Breathed from God and The Case for Progressive Dispensationalism, and is the editor of Women and Men in Ministry: A Complementary Perspective. He also wrote the “Open But Cautious View” in Are Miraculous Gifts for Today? Four Views, edited by Dr. Wayne Grudem. His shorter works have appeared in many journals including Bibliotheca Sacra, Grace Theological Journal, andJournal of the Evangelical Theological Society. He also was one of only three scholars who worked both on the original 1971 translation of the New American Standard Bible as well as the 1995 update. Dr. Saucy resides in Anaheim, California.

Book Review: Are Miraculous Gifts For Today? 4 Views

How Does God the Holy Spirit Work Through His Church Today?

Book Review By David P. Craig

AMGFT? 4 Views

This will be one of the longest book reviews I’ve ever written. I’m writing it as much for me (to sort through what I read) as anyone else. I want to give an overview of the positions in the book, their presenters, and the pros and cons of each position as represented by the presenters. Then I would like to close this review with the strengths and weaknesses of the arguments that were presented  and whether or not there was any resolution.

The essential issues addressed in this book by four presenters and one facilitator is related to these important questions: “How is the Holy Spirit working in churches today? Is he really giving miraculous healings and prophecies in tongues? Is he giving Christians new power for ministry when they experience a ‘baptism in the Holy Spirit’ after conversion? Is he driving out demons when Christians command them? Or are these events confined to a distant past, to the time when the New Testament was being written and living apostles taught and governed–and worked miracles–in the churches? There are many Pentecostals who say that Christians should seek to be baptized in the Holy Spirit after conversion, and that this experience will result in a new spiritual power for ministry. But other evangelicals respond that they already have been baptized in the Holy Spirit, because it happened the moment they became Christians, Who is right? What are the arguments on each side?”

In addition to these questions there are many differences over what spiritual gifts are currently in operation today. “Can people have a gift of prophecy today, so that God actually reveals things to them and they can tell these revelations to others? Or was that gift confined to the time when the New Testament was still unfinished, in the first century A.D.? And what about healing? Should Christians expect that God will often heal in miracles when we pray today? Can some people still have the gift of healing? Or should our prayer emphasis be that God will work to heal through ordinary means, such as doctors and medicine? Or again, should we mostly encourage people to see the sanctifying value of sickness and pray that they will have grace to endure it?

Lastly, questions related to what is speaking in tongues? How should they be practiced in the church (if at all)? And should evangelism and ministry be accompanied by demonstrations of God’s miraculous power? These and many more questions and issues are addressed by the presenters.

The presenters consist of two Theologians that would lean toward the cessasionist category. Some well-known schools that have traditionally represented cessationism include: Westminster Theological Seminary, Dallas Theological Seminary, and The Master’s Seminary. Cessationists argue “that there are no miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit today. Gifts such as prophecy, tongues, and healing were confined to the first century, and were used at the time the apostles were establishing the churches and the New Testament was not yet complete.”

Representing the Cessationist position is Dr. Richard B. Gaffin. He has been a long time Professor of Systematic Theology at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia. Dr. Gaffin has written a book defending this position entitled Perspectives on Pentecost: Studies in New Testament Teaching on the Gifts of the Holy Spirit (Phillipsburg, N.J.: P&R, 1979). Gaffin has degrees from Calvin College (A.B.), and Westminster Seminary (B.D., Th.M., Th.D.), and is also a minister in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church.

The next position discussed in the book is called the “open but cautious” position. The open but cautious position is described this way by the editor: “These people have not been convinced by the cessationist arguments that relegate certain gifts to the first century, but they are not really convinced by the doctrine or practice of those who emphasize such gifts today either. They are open to the possibility of miraculous gifts today, but they are concerned about the possibility of abuses that they have seen in groups that practice these gifts. They do not think speaking in tongues is ruled out by Scripture, but they see many modern examples as not conforming to scriptural guidelines; some also are concerned that it often leads to divisiveness and negative results in churches today. They think churches should emphasize evangelism, Bible study, and faithful obedience as keys to personal and church growth, rather than miraculous gifts. Yet they appreciate some of the benefits that Pentecostal, Charismatic, and Third Wave churches have brought to the evangelical world, especially a refreshing contemporary tone in worship and a challenge to renewal in faith.”

Representing the “Open but cautious” view is the Distinguished Professor of Systematic Theology from Talbot School of Theology, Dr. Robert L. Saucy. Dr. Saucy has taught for more than 40 years at Talbot and is the author of numerous books related to eschatology and the church including: Unleashing God’s Power in You (with Neil T. Anderson; Bridgetree, 2012); The Case for Progressive Dispensationalism: The Interface Between Dispensational and Non-Dispensational Theology (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2010); Scripture: Its Power, Authority and Relevance (Nashville: Word, 2001); and The Church in God’s Program (Chicago: Moody Press, 1974). Dr. Saucy earned his degrees at Westmont College (A.B.), and Dallas Theological Seminary (Th.M., and Th.D.). He is a member of a Conservative Baptist Church.

The third view presented is called the “Third Wave” view. It is a  continuationist view of the miraculous gifts. Wayne Grudem explains this position as follows: “Third Wave people encourage the equipping of all believers to use the New Testament spiritual gifts today and say that the proclamation of the gospel should ordinarily be accompanied by ‘signs, wonders, and miracles,’ according the the New Testament pattern. They teach however, that baptism in the Holy Spirit happens to all Christians at conversion and that subsequent experiences are better called ‘fillings’ or ’empowerings’ with the Holy Spirit. Though they believe the gift of tongues exist today, they do not emphasize it to the extent that Pentecostals and Charismatics do.”

The presenter of the “Third Wave” view is Dr. C. Samuel Storms. He is currently the pastor of Bridgeway Church in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. In the past he has been an associate of Dr. S. Lewis Johnson’s at Believer’s Chapel in Dallas, Texas; a pastor at Christ Community Church in Ardmore, Oklahoma; and an associate pastor with Mike Bickle in Kansas City, Missouri at the Metro Christian Fellowship. He is the founder of Enjoying God Ministries and has also been a professor of theology at Wheaton College. Dr. Storms has earned his degrees from The University of Oklahoma (B.A.); Dallas Theological Seminary (Th.M.); and The University of Texas (Ph.D.). Dr. Storms has authored numerous books including: The Beginner’s Guide to Spiritual Gifts. Ventura: Regal, 2013; Chosen for Life: The Case for Divine Election. Wheaton: Crossway, 2007; and Convergence: Spiritual Journeys of a Charismatic Calvinist. Enjoying God Ministries, 2005.

The term “Third Wave”  was coined in the 1980’s by the Fuller Seminary professor of missions – Dr. C. Peter Wagner. Dr. Wagner has designated the first wave of the renewal of the Holy Spirit – The Pentecostal renewal  (Which began in 1901). The charismatic renewal followed on the heels of the Pentecostal renewal in the 1960-70’s. Perhaps the best-known proponent of the “Third Wave” position was John Wimber the leader of the Association of Vineyard Churches and the pastor of the Vineyard Christian Fellowship in Anaheim, California.

The Pentecostal and Charismatic views are very similar but have some differences. Wayne Grudem explains, “Pentecostal refers to any denomination or group that traces its historical origin back to the Pentecostal revival that began in the United States in 1901, and that holds the following doctrines: (1) All the gifts of the Holy Spirit mentioned in the New Testament are intended for today; (2) baptism in the Holy Spirit is an empowering experience subsequent to conversion and should be sought by Christians today; and (3) when baptism in the Holy Spirit occurs, people will speak in tongues as a ‘sign’ that they have received this experience. Pentecostal groups usually have their own distinct denominational structures, among which are the Assemblies of God, the Church of God in Christ, and many others.”

Charasmatic, on the other hand, refers to any groups (or people) that trace their historical origin to the charismatic renewal movement of the 1960’s and 1970’s and seek to practice all the spiritual gifts mentioned in the New Testament (including prophecy, healing, miracles, tongues, interpretation, and distinguishing between spirits). Among charismatics there are differing viewpoints on whether baptism in the Holy Spirit is subsequent to conversion and whether speaking in tongues is a sign of baptism in the Spirit. Charismatics by and large have refrained from forming their own denominations, but view themselves as a force of renewal within existing Protestant and Roman Catholic churches. There is no representative charismatic denomination in the United States today, but the most prominent charismatic spokesman is probably Pat Robertson with his Christian Broadcasting Network, the television program “The 700 Club,” and Regent University.

Representing the Pentecostal position is Dr. Douglas A. Oss. He also demonstrates where the Pentecostal and Charismatic positions differ. Dr. Oss is currently Professor of Biblical Theology and New Testament Interpretation at the Assemblies of God Theological Seminary in Springfield, Missouri. Dr. Oss has earned degrees from Western Washington University (B.A), Assemblies of God Theological Seminary (M.Div.) and Westminster Theological Seminary (Ph.D.). He has published articles in the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society; Bulletin for Biblical Research; Grace Theological Journal; Westminster Theological Journal; and Enrichment Journal. He also translated 1 and 2 Corinthians for the New Living Translation and served on the Translation Advisory Committee for the English Standard Version.

The general editor and author of the introduction and conclusion of the book is Dr. Wayne Grudem. Dr. Grudem is Research Professor of Theology and Biblical Studies at Phoenix Seminary in Phoenix, Arizona. He received a B.A. from Harvard University, an M.Div. and a D.D. from Westminster Seminary, Philadelphia, and a Ph.D (in New Testament) from the University of Cambridge, England. He has published over twenty books, including his newest book, The Poverty of Nations: A Sustainable Solution, which was published in August 2013 and his magnum opus: Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Zondervan, 2009). He has also written a layman’s version of his doctoral thesis entitled The Gift of Prophecy in the New Testament and Today (Crossway, 1988). He was also the General Editor for the 2.1 million-word ESV Study Bible (Evangelical Christian Publishers Association Book of the Year and World Magazine book of the year, 2009).

In each essay the four authors address from their own view the following five topics: (1) baptism in the Holy Spirit and the question of postconversion experiences; (2) the question of whether some gifts have ceased; (3) a discussion of specific gifts, especially prophecy, healing, and tongues; (4) practical implications for church life; (5) dangers of one’s own position and that of the others. After each essay the three other presenters respond with an eight-page response. At the end of the book Dr. Grudem evaluates each position citing the pro’s and con’s of each, and then brings out the areas of agreement and disagreement. He also offers some guidelines for continued dialogue and solutions leading toward consensus.

In an interesting point Grudem says, “People have asked me why these four men who all believe the same Bible and all have deep love for our Lord could not reach agreement on these things. I tell them that it took the early church until A.D. 381 (at Constantinople) to finally settle the doctrine of the Trinity, and until A.D. 451 (at Chalcedon) to settle disputes over the deity and humanity of Christ in one person. We should not be surprised if these complex questions about the work of the Holy Spirit could not be resolved in two days!” Point well taken.

In reading the book one gets an immediate sense of the complexities related to miraculous gifts. Ultimately it all comes down to interpreting the biblical data. The author’s all leave no stones unturned in their theological and exegetical presentations. They all present well written essay’s with good arguments. Obviously, they all can’t be right. However, the spirit with which they write is right. They articulate their arguments cogently and compellingly and yet all recognize that their own view has deficiencies and weaknesses. However, each scholar makes an excellent case for his view.

As for the areas of disagreement there were many. The big idea conveyed by Gaffin and Saucy is that Jesus and the Apostles miracles were unique in relationship to God’s Redemptive Historical Plan (Gaffin) and God’s working in the new covenant program of God (Saucy). Gaffin came at his view through the lens of the Redemptive Historical method of interpretation (He is a Covenant Theologian). Whereas Saucy as a Progressive Dispensationalist had a little different take on the uniqueness of the miraculous events that took place during this period of history. Both Gaffin and Saucy believe that we no longer have Apostles and that the fact that we no longer have Apostles and a ‘closed canon” matters significantly in why the miraculous gifts operated differently in the New Testament, then they do today (if at all). Thus for Gaffin and Saucy there is definitely a distinction drawn between then and now with reference to the expectation of miracles. They argue extensively both theologically and exegetically to demonstrate the significance of the new covenant, the openness and closing of the canon, and how the Apostles’ and Christ’s ministry were needed and specific to that time of Redemptive History (New Covenant) – and therefore, no longer necessary today.

On the other hand both Storms and Oss make solid exegetical and theological cases for why the miraculous gifts should continue today. They argue from Joel and Acts specifically – that these are indeed the last days, and that there is no particularly good reason (biblically or theologically) why we don’t need the miraculous gifts any less now, than they did in the New Testament. They make the case that the cessation of gifts is simply not taught at all in the New Testament. I think the biggest problem they have is in regards to “Apostles” and where do they fit in today?

The primary weaknesses of Saucy and Gaffin’s arguments are with reference to “Why” miraculous gifts have ceased. They also do an inadequate job of explaining the myriad of these miraculous realities today – with virtually no comments about the plethora of miracles taking place in the 10/40 window for instance.

As for Storms and Oss they do an inadequate job of dealing with Saucy and Gaffin’s arguments with reference to consistency in their interpretation with reference to the gift/office of “apostleship”. If there are no longer apostles than how are the other miraculous gifts substantiated?

All the author’s were particularly weak in bringing out specific examples of the miraculous gifts today – both examples, and their practice or function in their own churches. Of course this wasn’t so much an issue for Gaffin as a cessationist, and for Saucy as a ‘non-expectant-continuationist’. However, I would have liked to seen more interaction with the miraculous experiences and claims of those representing the continuationist perspective. Sam Storms provided some examples, but Oss provided precious little in this regard.

Each author gave a huge amount of weight and space in their writing to the theological/exegetical basis for their views and very little to the experiential/practical basis for their positions. I would have liked to have seen more balance here. Especially because the title of the book was “Are Miraculous Gifts For Today?” I think the book would have been longer, but more balanced and really dealt more with the ‘today’ aspect of miraculous gifts rather than just the “then” aspect.

The areas of disagreement highlighted by Grudem fall under various categories:

“(1) Expectation. Because of differences in understanding the way in which the Holy Spirit ordinarily works during the church age, the authors differed significantly in their expectations of how we should expect the Holy Spirit to work in a miraculous way to heal, to guide, to work miracles, to give unusual empowering for ministry, and to bring things to mind (or reveal things to us).

(2) Encouragement. Because of differences in understanding what we should expect the Holy Spirit to do today, the authors also differed in how much they think we should encourage Christians to seek and pray for miraculous works of the Holy Spirit today.”

(3) There was disagreement on what to call ‘prophecy’ today and whether or not it should be considered ‘inspired’ of God. According to Dr. Saucy, God can bring things to mind today, but this should usually be called personal guidance not prophecy. Dr. Gaffin beleives that the gift of prophecy was restricted to the giving of Scripture and ended when the New Testament canon was completed.

(4) “Although all the authors agreed that God can still work miracles (including healing), Storms and Oss maintain that people today can have that gift, Gaffin limits it to the apostolic age, and Saucy, while open to the gift today, would examine claims to miracles with great care and caution (he felt that, historically speaking, miracles seem to be especially prominent in church-planting situations).”

(5) “Regarding the gift of speaking in tongues plus interpretation, according to Gaffin and Saucy these two gifts, when put together, constitute Scripture-quality revelation from the Holy Spirit. Gaffin believes that these gifts only functioned during the ‘open canon’ situation when the New Testament was incomplete. When asked what is happening in the lives of Christians who claim to speak in tongues today, Gaffin is not sure but believes this activity is probably just an ability to speak in nonsense syllables. He is also open to being shown from Scripture that this activity is helpful to certain people in their prayer lives, though he would still not call it the gift of speaking in tongues. To Saucy, while Scripture does not rule out tongues today, many modern expressions do not conform to the scriptural practice or purpose of tongues…

Storms and Oss, on the other hand, hold that speaking in tongues is not a revelation from God but a form of human prayer and praise–it is the Christian’s own human spirit praying to God through syllables that the speaker does not understand. Storms and Oss believe this gift continues today. Oss adds that tongues is prompted by the Holy Spirit, can also be used by God to convey a message to the church, though not a Scripture-quality word. Both Storms and Oss also hold that the gift of interpretation is simply the ability to understand what the tongue-speaker is saying in those words of prayer and praise.”

(6) “Regarding any empowering work of the Holy Spirit after conversion, Oss calls this ‘baptism in the Holy Spirit’ the first time it happens; the other authors use different terms such as empowering or filling or anointing by the Holy Spirit.”

(7) “Though all the authors agreed that there may be several purposes for miracles, both Gaffin and Saucy see the initial authentication of the gospel message in the first century as the primary purpose of miracles, while Storms and Oss believe that other purposes, such as bearing witness to the gospel message in all ages, ministering to the needs of God’s people, and brining glory to God even in the present day, should receive equal emphasis.

(8) The empowering work of the Holy Spirit after conversion. “While Oss sees a pattern in the book of Acts whereby Christians experienced a single empowering work of the Holy Spirit (or baptism in the Holy Spirit) distinct from conversion, and sees speaking in tongues as the sign that signifies this, the other authors do not see such a pattern or encourage Christians to seek such a single experience distinct from their conversion and distinct from experiences of empowering that may occur multiple times throughout the Christian life.”

(9) The greatest area of disagreement was to what degree we should see the New Testament as a pattern for church life today by way of imitation. “Storms and Oss, throughout our converstaions, continued to emphasize that in all areas of life (such as evangelism, moral conduct, doctrine, church government and ministry, etc.), we should seem to take patterns of the New Testament as patterns we should imitate in our lives today. They challenged Gaffin and Saucy to explain why it was only in the area of miraculous works of the Holy Spirit that they were unwilling to take the New Testament as God’s pattern for us today.”

(10) Church life. “Churches holding to the views advocated by Storms and Oss include much more teaching and encouragement of people to pray for, seek, and exercise miraculous gifts (healing, prophecy, tongues and interpretation, miracles, distinguishing between spirits, and perhaps some others). But churches holding to views expressed by Gaffin, and to some extent by Saucy, do not encourage people to seek or pray for these gifts and do not ordinarily provide ‘space’ for them to occur either in large assemblies or in smaller home fellowship groups in the life of the church.”

In my opinion there were pro’s and con’s in each position presented. The value of this book is that each position is presented within a theological framework (whether Redemptive-Historical or Dispensational), exegetically based, historically nuanced, and given its modern significance. I think the presenters gave the most attention to the theological and exegetical elements. They gave lesser attention to the historical and current or practical ramifications of the issues. I was a little disappointed that they didn’t spend more time showing how their views actually function in their own ministries.

However, anyone can learn a lot from the presentations and the presenters. I appreciated the irenic spirit that was displayed throughout the writing. The positions were attacked non-ad hominem. The ideas and interpretations were attacked – not the men themselves. There was a spirit of gentleness and respect maintained throughout. All five authors spent two days in Philadelphia together in discussion and prayer after they had written and responded to one another’s essays.

I began my journey reading this book holding to an “open but cautious” position. I don’t think my position changed that much. However, I actually learned to appreciate each position more than I did before reading the book. I think I developed a greater understanding of each position, as well as a greater respect for each view. Grudem even comments at the end of the book that he believes that all five of them felt like they could all be elders in the same church – that would be very interesting indeed!

Though the authors clearly disagreed strongly on the continuation vs. non-continuation of the miraculous gifts for today, there was a consensus of affirmation on many things: (1) Agreement that God does heal and work miracles today; (2) An affirmation that God the Holy Spirit empowers Christians for various kinds of ministry, “and this empowering is an activity that can be distinguished from the inner-transforming work of the Holy Spirit by which he enables us to grow in sanctification and in obedience to God”; (3) Agreement that God the Holy Spirit guides us (but more study is needed in how the Holy Spirit uses our impressions and feelings); (4) Unity on the fact that God in his sovereignty can bring to our mind specific things, “not only (i) by occasionally bringing to mind specific words of Scripture that meet the need of the moment, but also (ii) by giving us sudden insight into the application of Scripture to a specific situation, (iii) by influencing our feelings and emotions, and (iv) by giving us specific information about real life situations that we did not acquire through ordinary means (though Dr. Gaffin holds this last category is so highly exceptional that it is neither to be expected nor sought; he prefers a term other than ‘revelation’ to describe these four elements). On this specific point there was the least agreement among the four authors.”

I highly recommend that Christians read this book for the following five reasons: (1) You will learn much about Christian history – in particular about the Redemptive Historical Method of biblical Interpretation from both a continuationist (Oss) and non-continuationist perspective (Gaffin). (2) You will learn how to argue for a position without using ad hominem arguments. Oftentimes when Christians debate on these issues it all comes down to attacking experiences or one’s sanctification status. All the author’s do a wonderful job treating one another as brother’s in Christ and speak the truth in love with gentleness and respect. (3) You will appreciate the strengths and weaknesses of each argument. You will see that these issues are more complex than you think. They involve weighty matters of hermeneutics, historical theology, biblical theology, systematic theology, exegesis, and real life application. (4) You will appreciate both the intellectual and emotional realities of your relationship with and understanding of the Holy Spirit. (5) You will appreciate the diversity and unity that we can have as Christians even when we agree to disagree. I think the presenter’s were all wise, thoughtful, thorough, clear, articulate, and humble. No one came across as having arrived. As they discussed the Holy Spirit I believe they were also manifesting the fruit of the Spirit. This book is a great example of the way Christians should approach differences – with dialogue, in humility, and pursuing the truth in community.

Book Review: Continuity and Discontinuity edited by John S. Feinberg

Great Discussion of the Relationship Between the Old and New Testaments

This book contains various perspectives from leading theologians on issues related to that which continues and discontinues from the Old Testament into the New Testament.

Half of the contributors in this book would consider themselves “Covenant Theologians” – including contributions from O. Palmer Robertson, Willem VanGemeren, Knox Chamblin, Bruce K. Waltke, Fred H. Klooster,  Martin H. Woudstra, and Sam Storms. The other half would lean dispensational or in the discontinuity camp – including essays from John S. Feinberg, Paul D. Feinberg, Robert L. Saucy, Walter C. Kaiser, Allen P. Ross, and Douglas J. Moo.

The book is a tribute to S. Lewis Johnson– long time Bible teacher at Dallas Theological Seminary and Teaching pastor at Believer’s Chapel in Dallas, Texas (he went to be with the Lord on January 28, 2004). The beginning of the book and ending of the book contain some well written tributes from Sam Storms and John Sproule to Johnson and expound upon his outstanding attributes as a scholar, exegete of God’s Word, pastor, mentor, friend, and southern gentlemen – he was born in Birmingham, Alabama.

After a wonderful historical essay on the debate of continuity and discontinuity by Rodney Peterson the format of the book addresses issues related to six key areas: 1) Theological Systems and the Testaments; 2) Hermeneutics and the Testaments; 3) Salvation and the Testaments; 4) The Law and the Testaments; 5) The People of God and the Testaments; and 6) Kingdom Promises and the Testaments. Each of these six topics contains an essay from a continuity perspective followed by an essay from a discontinuity perspective.

Here are some of the issues addressed in the book:

Are Christians to see ethical dilemmas such as capital punishment and abortion enforced today?

Are Israel and the Church one or distinct today?

How do believers relate to the Old Testament law in practice today?

One of the points that became increasingly clear to me as I read this book was that the more one moves in the discontinuity direction, the more dispensational he is likely to become, and the more one moves in the direction of continuity, the more covenantal he will become.

This book is simply outstanding. It’s not an easy read – but well worth the effort. In my experience most people from both sides of the continuity/discontinuity continuum have a lot to learn from one another and this book helps people in either camp come closer to the center in balancing how to effectively understand and interpret the two Testaments of the Scriptures. I highly recommend this book to help you become a more effective interpreter of the Scriptures and lover of Jesus Christ at the center of it all.


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